David Murphy: Time for slumping Phillies to promote Domonic Brown

Posted: June 13, 2012

THE MOST important day of the Nationals' season was April 27, when general manager Mike Rizzo ignored all of the reasons why he should not have called up Bryce Harper and instead summoned the 19-year-old super prospect to the major leagues.

Six weeks later, Harper is hitting .282 with six home runs and an .889 OPS, helping the first-place Nationals overcome a litany of injuries to their veteran stars.

The most important day of the Angels' season was also April 27, when general manager Jerry DiPoto ignored all of the reasons why he should not have called up South Jersey's Mike Trout and instead summoned the 20-year-old super prospect to the major leagues.

Six weeks later, Trout was hitting .350 with five home runs and a .955 OPS entering Monday's night's game at the Dodgers, helping the Angels overcome a slow start by their star-studded lineup and claw their way from last place to three games out of first.

The question: When will the most important day of the Phillies' season arrive? When will general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. ignore all of the reasons why he should not call up Domonic Brown and summon the 24-year-old outfielder to the major leagues from Triple A Lehigh Valley? When will the Phillies finally give Brown an extended chance to help them overcome the rash of injuries they have suffered and the slow starts that several of their veteran stars have endured?

At the start of last season, Harper and Trout were two of the three position players rated higher than Brown on Baseball America's annual Top 100 prospect list. Fellow members of that year's Top 10 like Jeremy Hellickson, Aroldis Chapman, Eric Hosmer and Mike Moustakas are all making their marks in the majors. Some of them have struggled. Some of them have thrived. All of them have remained.

Back in March, when the Phillies optioned Brown to the minor leagues toward the end of spring training, Amaro said, "We're not in the mode right now to develop guys at the major league level."

Well, the modus operandi has changed. The Phillies are four games under .500, eight games out of first, sole owners of last place in the ultra-competitive National League East. Their centerfielder is 3 1/2 months away from free agency. Their first and second basemen are still at least 3 weeks away from returning to the active roster.

One by one, the reasons for keeping Brown in the minors have disappeared. The Phillies were hoping that John Mayberry Jr. would thrive when given a chance to play on a regular basis. Ten weeks into his audition, the 28-year-old first baseman/outfielder is hitting .224 with a .258 on base percentage, .322 slugging percentage and two home runs. He has started 21 of the Phillies' last 33 games, hitting .238/.286/.369 while striking out in more than a quarter of his at-bats.

At the start of May, Brown was not playing like a candidate for the big-league roster, his spring-training fielding troubles stretching into the season with little to make up for them at the plate. Now, though, it is June, and Brown's batting average is up to .269, and his OPS up to .738. He is hitting .357 with runners in scoring position. In his last 10 games, he is hitting .289/.372/.553 with three home runs, 12 runs scored and four RBI.

Brown has spent some time in centerfield, the latest adjustment for the natural rightfielder. In a perfect world, he could spend all season at the position, perhaps establishing himself as the heir apparent to Shane Victorino, whose contract expires at the end of the season. But as the first 2-plus months of this season have shown, it is not a perfect world. The Phillies need to fulfill two objectives between now and the July 31 deadline. First, they need to find some way to energize an offense that has routinely failed to come up with big hits when they matter most. Second, they need to find out what, exactly, they have in the cupboard for the future. Promoting Brown gives them the potential to do both.

In his two previous stints in the majors, Brown left plenty of unanswered questions with regard to his ability at the plate. Last season, he hit .245/.333/.391 with five home runs in 210 plate appearances. Hardly the numbers of a Trout or Harper. But we are not comparing him to Trout or Harper right now. We are comparing him to the weapons on the Phillies' roster. And right now, those five home runs would rank fifth on the team. That .333 on-base percentage would rank fourth among Phillies regulars.

Even if Brown were to falter, the Phillies would at least be able to factor that into their plans for the future. That knowledge is the most important thing right now. Nobody in the organization has given up on this season. Nor should they. But they at least need to consider the fact that a playoff berth might not be in the cards, and that finishing this season without an informed opinion on Brown's capabilities will only compound the matter.

The defense is a question mark, but it is hard to imagine it not still being a question mark a year from now.

Without a doubt, promoting Brown would be a risk. And judging by the Phillies' track record, it is a risk they are not likely to take. They are more likely to stick with the status quo, favoring the known over the unknown.

On the other hand, when you look at what is known, you can't help but wonder if the alternative can be any worse. n

Contact David Murphy at murphyd@phillynews.com

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